Way back in September (ages ago!) I promised to post all the recipes from a dinner party that Matty and I hosted for a few friends.
Credit definitely goes to Matty for the whole dinner. My job was to keep the wine and conversation flowing, and to stay out of his way in the kitchen (while I not-so-stealthfully tried to snap a few photos, which also explains why the above photo is so harried — everyone was sick of my taking pictures by the time we got to the main course!).
As our guests arrived, they noshed on Renegade Pickles, a spicy batch of cucumbers and breakfast radishes that Matty pickled earlier in the day. The official start to the meal was a sweet-but-zingy Spicy Carrot and Cilantro Soup, (don’t miss the comments below my Carrot Soup post about making your own vegetable stock!), followed by a main course of fennel-roasted wild Alaskan halibut.
Even if you hate fennel, you might like this dish. One of our guests — who usually hates the stuff — cleaned her plate. The sauteed fennel was sweet and mild, and the fennel stalks baked with the fish kept it moist, infusing a subtle licorice flavor.
There are three important points to consider when cooking fish:
First: Buy sustainable. My go-to resource is the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch.
Second: Buy the freshest, highest-quality cuts of fish you can afford. I believe it’s better to choose quality over quantity, though Matty went a little overboard and went for both: He picked up three pounds of exquisite (and outrageously expensive) halibut steaks from Santa Monica Seafood. (He doubled the recipe below).
Third: Don’t overcook it. Fish is ready when it flakes easily throughout, and is no longer soft in the middle. It’s important for safety to cook it all the way through, of course, but go beyond that and it’ll start to get tough and dry.
Fennel-Roasted Wild Alaskan Halibut
From Martha Rose Shulman’s Oven-Roasted Fish with Fennel. Serves four.
2 Pounds Fennel, with fronds still attached (3 medium bulbs)
2 Tbs. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 Medium Onion, chopped
2 Garlic Cloves, minced
Sea Salt and freshly ground Pepper to taste
1 1/2 Pounds Wild Alaskan Halibut (or any firm white fish fillets)
Preheat oven to 450°F. While the oven is heating, cut the stalks and fronds from the fennel and set aside. Cut the bulbs into quarters, remove the center cores (save in the freezer for making veggie broth later!), and slice into thin strips. Finely chop the fronds until you have about 2 tablespoons.
Place the fish in a lightly-oiled baking pan, in a single layer. Lightly sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cover with the fennel stalks, then cover the pan tightly with aluminum foil. Set aside for just a few minutes while you get the fennel started on the stove.
In a large, nonstick pan, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook for a couple of minutes, until it begins to soften. Add the fennel and continue cooking for about ten minutes, until everything is tender.
At this point, put the fish in the oven. Bake for 15 minutes, then test for doneness. It should flake easily with a fork, and not be mushy in the center. If it is, bake another five minutes and check again.
Back on the stove, add the garlic. Stir and cover. Reduce heat, and cook for another 5 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the chopped fronds, mix gently, and remove from heat. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
When the fish is done, remove from the oven and discard the fennel stalks. Serve each piece of fish on a bed of the sauteed fennel.
R,FTW! is short for Recipe For The Weekend! (or, if you prefer, Recipe For The Win!). My goal is to present healthful — and delicious — recipes that are easy and fun to make, with an emphasis on better-for-you substitutions that don’t compromise taste.